ET Meets FT!


I spoke at length this afternoon with a journalist from the Financial Times in London. He was keen to look a little deeper into the recent press attention that the Titan mission has attracted, so we discussed the
BSc Astrobiology degree award that we???re about to start teaching here at Glamorgan next academic year (October, to be precise!).

One of the questions that came up was an innocent enquiry as to the age of astrobiology as a subject. And this got me thinking. How do we answer such a question?

A Google search suggests, for example, that the first European workshop (ESA, as it happens) on Astrobiology took place in 2001 . Avid readers of this blog will remember my reference to our ground-breaking astrobiology module Life in the Universe which we ran for the first time back in 1998. The first extrasolar planets were discovered around 1995, so we actually had some empirical data for such a speculative science around ten years ago.

But it doesn???t stop there, of course.

The pervasive cultural myth of extraterrestrialism, that body of belief which renders the science of extrasolar planets synonomous with the pseudoscience of alien abductions and anal-probing, goes all the way back to the original alien invasion narrative: H G Wells??? War of the Worlds – about to be blockbustered again this summer by Spielberg. Wells himself was educated at the Royal College of Science by, among others, T H Huxley, aka Darwin???s Bulldog. And its Darwin we have to thank, not just for the mechanism of evolution of life on Earth, but also for the idea of the physical evolution of worlds in a cosmic setting. Darwin inspired a wealth of fiction, but also provided a fictional rationale for imagining what cosmic life might develop. From now on the idea of ET became synonymous with the physical and mental characteristics of the alien establishing, for the first time, a composite extraterrestrialism.

So does astrobiology begin in 1859 with Darwin???s Origin of Species ? We previously blogged the discovery of extrasolar planets as a mere continuation of Copernicanism which dates from the early Renaissance (1543 to be precise).

Look, I think by now you can see where I???m going with this. Its almost midnight, Liverpool have just been knocked out of the FA Cup, and I???m going to blame astrobiology on the Greeks and the likes of Aristarchus, Democritus and Epicurus

I think it was the great architect of the biological synthesis, Ernst Mayr , who said ???most scientific problems are far better understood by studying their history than their logic???. So it is with astrobiology. Its taken technology this long to catch up.

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